How does a board of elders provide discipline in the twenty-first century?
An entire chapter in the Book of Church Order (BCO) is entitled "The Disciplinary and Judicial Procedures." Circumstances that require church discipline usually do not necessitate the church taking formal action. But when formal action is required, it is important to follow carefully the process described in the BCO so that both ecclesiastical and legal concerns are respected.
The words "discipline" and "disciple" are derived from the same root word. To be disciplined is to become a good disciple of Jesus Christ. Disciples need support and encouragement. The church, through the work of the board of elders, should encourage people to be faithful disciples. The modern church sometimes also utilizes pastoral or professional counseling as an avenue to discipleship. When people fail to live together with grace, those who have been trained to help understand and change people's behavior can be an extension of the church's care and its call to faithful discipleship.
What happens when support and encouragement through personal, pastoral, or professional intervention does not help? That's when the board of elders needs to remember its call to care for the whole body of Christ and turn to the process outlined in the Book of Church Order. While people often bristle at the word "discipline," it simply points to the call for all of us to walk and work together as a community of disciples. Failure in that walk can do tremendous harm and cause great suffering for an individual and the congregation to which the individual has pledged his or her love and loyalty.
View The Disciplinary and Judicial Procedures from the Book of Church Order.